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Ten Counterproductive Behaviors of Social Justice Educators
September 2, 2014 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I have been struggling with how to do the work many of us call “Social Justice”. I understand the why - at least I believe I do. I am on a journey to understand my role in changing the world, which is no doubt a privilege. It has taken some time to get over the fear of doing the work correctly and instead operate from the heart - continuously challenging my perspective. As I began to engage this work in a healthier manner, I noticed patterns of bad habits that educators exhibit while being change agents. These habits, in the name of justice and equity, get in the way of making authentic, strategic, and sustaining change. Below are ten counterproductive behaviors of Social Justice educators, all explored from the unique intersections of my privileged and oppressed lens.
posted by josher71 (140 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bravo. Well said.

There are many good bits of wisdom in the article, starting with "shaming is not educating". But this one hit close to home: "7. Choosing not to challenge family members and elders."

To please my mother, who was deathly afraid of family strife, I utterly failed to speak "my truth" over multiple decades as my educated, mostly kind-hearted brother drifted into right-wing authoritarian Christianism. He doesn't think he's a Dominionist, he just agrees with a lot they say. This sort of Capitalist Jesus nonsense couldn't be farther removed from the culturally Catholic values of my Sicilian immigrant heritage, and so my passivity ended up contributing to a stifled family atmosphere and a sense that our heritage was being undermined.

Beyond just my family, in my home state of Ohio I saw the consequences of this happening in thousands upon thousands of households across the state: Ohio shifted from a pro-labor, nominally liberal swing state to a hot bed of religious extremism and proto-fascist politics. I deeply regret having contributed, in however a small way, to that transformation.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:18 AM on September 2 [30 favorites]


Thanks for this. I reposted to a Facebook discussion group on socialism and spirituality.
posted by No Robots at 9:28 AM on September 2


Excellent piece. If we all followed his advice, our slings and arrows might hit some actual enemies instead of erring allies.
posted by homerica at 9:29 AM on September 2 [10 favorites]


Shaming is definitely not educating, but I think shaming does have some value - I shame acquaintences for being dumb, wack dudes when they say shitty things about women, and reinforce what is and what is not socially acceptable behavior.

I was glad to see "Refusing to hold multiple truths." It can be easy to get into dogmatic, binary us-vs-them stuff.
posted by entropone at 9:30 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


This is some good stuff.

One thing to note is that the internet is super blurry about the distinction between a safe space where you can vent among peers and education space where people are watching and learning. Educating and in-group discussion can be at odds with each other. I follow several trans* people on Tumblr, and I learn a lot, but I also witness a lot of infighting and competition to "be the best" at social justice (the #3 point in the article). There's not one 100% "correct" set of beliefs about trans* people, obviously, because it's not a monolith. It can be frustrating to have to take in all of that nuance, though, even when your heart is in the right place and you're trying to be as supportive as you can.

My boyfriend has a similar experience with feminism. He follows lots of women and tries to keep educating himself, but stuff like #SolidarityisforWhiteWomen can be hard for him to parse. That doesn't mean that discussion shouldn't be happening--it was some of the better, more productive feminist discussion of the past year. But it can be difficult, as an outsider, to take in a discussion at that level. You want a shortcut to being supportive, but you're following discussions where you aren't the primary audience, so 101-style shortcuts aren't going to be presented and wouldn't be agreed upon if they were.
posted by almostmanda at 9:33 AM on September 2 [17 favorites]


I don't mind using rhetorical methods that are used against me...shaming people can be ineffective because some people are unashamed of their behavior/beliefs. These people don't react to shaming the way Social Justice advocates would think. I don't mind getting in and knocking some heads, arguing and ridiculing people who lack self-awareness in the sense that it is intended here.
posted by Chuffy at 9:42 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


It's all well and good, but I feel like something along these lines gets posted once a month, with little effect. It would be neat to see some analysis of why, structurally, these behaviors keep happening, and how communities can be built to minimize them.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:45 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


Educating and in-group discussion can be at odds with each other.

Very much this, yes. People's gut feelings about what Internet-based things are more public-ish or private-ish often don't match.

As for shaming as a tactic, I'm torn: on the one hand, making it clear that This Is Not Done, and you will be called out if you do it is good. OTOH, the average human response to being called out is to dig in and actually believe more strongly.
posted by Zarkonnen at 9:46 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


On the shaming is not educating meme - I found this recent post on the Nice Guy(tm) phenomenon quite insightful It's fundamental insight - that:

"if you’re a certain kind of person, making fun of people for being unattractive and unhappy is its own reward. Hence everything that has ever been said about “nice guys (TM)”

seems to have a lot of explanatory power.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 9:51 AM on September 2 [21 favorites]


I found this recent post on the Nice Guy(tm) phenomenon quite insightful

I can't read that whole article because the problems with the primary metaphor became too jarring to keep going.

Nice Guys complaining about the friendzone are not comparable to a hard working minority complaining about career problems. That's like the core of the misunderstanding. You can't use, "How would these things sound if you said them about black people?" as a rhetorical trick because the exact thing feminists are trying to tell Nice Guys is that they are exactly not hard working people engaged in some contract where they do work and are owed something in return, but not getting it due to unfairness, stop thinking of yourselves like that.
posted by fleacircus at 10:16 AM on September 2 [41 favorites]


yeah and the nice guy phenomenon is a product of misogyny: many men feel they are entitled to sex from women because they are 'nice'. The anger and shame is the result of the disconnect between their expectations and reality.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 10:28 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


Nice Guys complaining about the friendzone are not comparable to a hard working minority complaining about career problems.

That's not the takeaway that I got from that article - quite the opposite actually. The author didn't even mention 'the friendzone'.

What he did write about coincidentally addresses just what was posted:

This seems to me to be the position that lonely men are in online. People will tell them they’re evil misogynist rapists – as the articles above did – no matter what. In what is apparently shocking news to a lot of people, this makes them hurt and angry.
posted by unixrat at 10:30 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


Educating and in-group discussion can be at odds with each other.

Add to that the uses to motivate and drive change, or other forms of activism, and you have a major source of friction for general purpose discussion sites. Differing language usage in these contexts (code switching and dogwhistles are symptoms) make discussions where all these and other uses are in play, mutually unintelligible, or worse, inflammatory. There's also no shortage of folks who like play with fire either.
posted by bonehead at 10:30 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I can't wait to see Tumblr's reaction to this.
posted by Scoo at 10:34 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


The problem here, to me, is that the article fails to consider the fact that there are actually a very tiny number of people who are committed in any substantial way to actual social justice, in the sense of doing any real work to advance any cause. The problematic behaviors identified seem characteristic of people who mostly like to get fighty on the internet about how awful various news stories or developments in the world are, and those people are definitely not social justice educators. In other words, real organizers don't need this advice and the people who do need it seem far less interested in taking any meaningful action or accomplishing concrete goals than they do in complaining and being righteous.
posted by clockzero at 10:36 AM on September 2 [22 favorites]


Sure hope the OP doesn't get overshadowed by the much easier derail we could be having.
posted by Jpfed at 10:36 AM on September 2 [14 favorites]


["Nice Guys"] are exactly not hard working people engaged in some contract where they do work and are owed something in return, but not getting it due to unfairness
many men feel they are entitled to sex from women because they are 'nice'. The anger and shame is the result of the disconnect between their expectations and reality.
Did either of you actually read the article, or are you just repeating a cached response to anything about "Nice Guys"? Because he directly addresses that point:
I didn’t think I deserved to have the prettiest girl in school prostrate herself at my feet. But I did think I deserved to not be doing worse than Henry.
I don’t think I ever claimed to be, or felt, entitled to anything. Just wanted to know why it was that people like Henry could get five wives and I couldn’t get a single date.
He's not even claiming that "Nice Guys" are necessarily right about the beliefs they form as a result of their experiences -- just that their experience is often one of having "Social Justice warriors" bully and shame them, in exactly the way that the OP says is counterproductive.
posted by Rangi at 10:38 AM on September 2 [15 favorites]


real organizers don't need this advice and the people who do need it seem far less interested in taking any meaningful action or accomplishing concrete goals than they do in complaining and being righteous.

Which number does this fall under?
posted by No Robots at 10:41 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Excellent piece. If we all followed his advice, our slings and arrows might hit some actual enemies instead of erring allies.

I see this false dichotomy come up a lot in discussions like this. In theory, characterizing people as "enemies" or "allies" is what critics of social justice are railing against, but I've rarely seen those characterizations used in actual discussions of social justice; it's much, much more frequent among people who are complaining about "SJWs".

I'm sure the people who feel like unjustly attacked allies have good intentions, but that and five bucks will get you a sandwich. Being an ally does not mean you'll never say something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/etc., and being an ally doesn't earn you a free pass on getting called on it, and, in fact, reacting with anger and defensiveness when you are is a pretty good sign that solidarity: you're doing it wrong.

Good intentions are not what make an ally. Being willing to do the hard work of examining your own biases and call them out in yourself as well as others: that's what makes an ally.
posted by kagredon at 10:41 AM on September 2 [25 favorites]


clockzero: The problematic behaviors identified seem characteristic of people who mostly like to get fighty on the internet about how awful various news stories or developments in the world are, and those people are definitely not social justice educators.

Unfortunately, the phrase "social justice" is more often associated with fighty internet people than with people who really are working for justice of the social kind. Just like how "Nice Guy" refers in practice to entitled misogynists, not guys who are nice. In both cases the de facto meanings may be a lot less numerous than the "ideal" meanings, but they're also a lot more noticeable.
posted by Rangi at 10:42 AM on September 2


11. Doing a shitty job of picking our battles; getting indignant at every perceived slight no matter how innocuous; and subsequently alienating potential allies who don't have time to tilt at windmills or listen to unhinged rants.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:42 AM on September 2 [18 favorites]


The Star Slate Codex entry (seeing that posted a lot here, I really ought to sub to that) wasn't on about the friendzone. I'll try to make a math metaphor about his metaphor and essay, which might be a terrible idea.

Imagine there's a plane of space and that at the far end of infinity X,Y we have the realm of terrible mouthbreathers referred to as 'Nice Guys' and that at the far end of infinity -X,-Y we have total acceptance or perhaps Culture values or some such thing. Basically the ultimate best way of interacting with humans while still being human. Now imagine a trendline of Y = X that goes from corner to corner.

The SSC complaint was that if someone near the middle of the line complains that they're not doing as well as they want to be they get lumped in with the miserable shits at X,Y who think they're not doing as well as they are entitled to be. Which is a bad state for things to be in.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:47 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


fleacircus: If that were the "primary metaphor", you'd have a point, but it isn't. He uses the "Poor Minority" thing to show how using terms of art can be unpleasant for those on the less-artful end of the term. He uses his patient in the opening to show how even when you are in contractually-fair arrangements, you may nonetheless feel that the game is rigged.

MisanthropicPainforest: You should really read the article before commenting on it.

"There seems to be some confusion about this, so let me explain what it means, to everyone, for all time. It does not mean “I am nice in some important cosmic sense, therefore I am entitled to sex with whomever I want.” It means: “I am a nicer guy than Henry.”
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 10:48 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


I think this is a great list for the intended audience, that is, for professional educators, for people who do this work for a living and are invited in to address diverse groups of people.

I think it's less great for activists of many sorts, at least as a sort of "You should always be doing this" thing. (I realize that many activists have education or awareness as part of their goal.)
posted by jaguar at 10:48 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


I should add, that's how I read the piece, at least.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:48 AM on September 2


I wish everyone lived by the rule of "90% is an A." If you are going through your life checking your privilege and using non-offensive terms and creating space for others to express their lived experiences and so forth, and you manage to do that 90% of the time, you get an A. In the other 10% of the time, when you use an outdated word, or accidentally stumble into a minefield of offensiveness that you didn't know was offensive, or get emotionally wrapped up in your own defensiveness, it's okay. It's like a spelling test. You spell a few words wrong, feel dumb about it, learn to spell them, and get them right the next time.

No person can be perfect 100% of the time, especially not on a moving target like social justice. If you are scoring a 90% on social justice, you get an A. Study the words you missed, learn some more, and you'll do better on the next quiz. It's all cumulative, but there is no final exam, and you can always improve your average.

This helps me not just with being a little more patient with other people, but it helps me be a lot kinder to myself and less defensive when I stumble into something where it turns out I'm an ignorant jackass. I no longer feel like it's all-or-nothing, I'm a "good" person who gets it or a "bad" person who doesn't; instead, I feel like it's an iterative process where I learn more through each iteration, and improve my "score." Perfection may be the Platonic goal, but the real goal is to improve my own "score" by studying and learning, and the only way I can correct my errors is if someone more knowledgeable points them out to me. I am something of a know-it-all so not fond of being wrong in public, and I tend to get defensive (especially when being ignorantly wrong comes with a moral judgment of being morally bad); thinking of social justice as being like a spelling test short circuits that defensive reaction and helps me shut up and listen to the corrections so I can spell the words right on the next quiz and improve my average and move up to an even harder word list.

Metaphor tortured enough? Cool.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:53 AM on September 2 [99 favorites]


Being an ally does not mean you'll never say something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/etc., and being an ally doesn't earn you a free pass on getting called on it, and, in fact, reacting with anger and defensiveness when you are is a pretty good sign that solidarity: you're doing it wrong.
It would help if "being called out" meant (in practice, I know it means this in theory) a polite pointer that something you said or did could be taken offensively, instead of a pile-on of bullying and mockery and threats. Often the social justice advocates complaining about x-ism sound more personally offended (and vindictive) than the people who actually are x.
posted by Rangi at 10:53 AM on September 2 [21 favorites]


"real organizers don't need this advice and the people who do need it seem far less interested in taking any meaningful action or accomplishing concrete goals than they do in complaining and being righteous."

Which number does this fall under?


Ha, very funny. If you think that it's somehow antithetical to the cause of social justice to point out that real change involves a lot of hard work in real life (i.e., not just internet-based speechifying) and that people maybe shouldn't consider themselves social justice educators if their contributions mostly consist of belligerent and/or self-righteous rhetoric, I'd like to know how.
posted by clockzero at 11:00 AM on September 2


I went to a con once. Now, I use crutches sometimes, and this was one of those times. I attended two panels, where the subject matter overlapped. While I stood up to ask a question in Panel 1, I sat back down after a while - because i realized that it'd be more appropriate for Panel 2 instead.

Now, to the rest of the crowd, I suddenly became an example of how the disabled (or whatever term they used at the time) was being shut down and oppressed by others, specially the panelists. How *dare* they make someone so uncomfortable that they sat back down before they could ask their question.

Which is all good and stuff, but no one asked me whether I felt 'oppressed' or not, or even why I sat back down. IIRC, I think I spoke out about it at the end of the second panel, but it made me feel intensely uncomfortable the entire time. Like, they wanted to prove how good they were being at Social Justice Warrioring for the un privileged that it didn't even occur to ask.
posted by spinifex23 at 11:03 AM on September 2 [20 favorites]


Rangi, yep, it's kind of this weird reactionary conflation of perfectionism and zealotry that doesn't cut anyone much slack, as Eyebrows so helpfully pointed out, and the whole knee-jerk pile-on / derail about the SlateStarCodex link neatly demonstrates.

There's nothing wrong with being a social justice advocate, and I try to do right as much as I can. However, there's a time to be right and a time to just sigh and move on because there's a fine line between being passionate about issues and just being a pedantic asshole who's more invested in Being Right than being compassionate.
posted by lonefrontranger at 11:04 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


entropone: "Shaming is definitely not educating, but I think shaming does have some value - I shame acquaintences for being dumb, wack dudes when they say shitty things about women, and reinforce what is and what is not socially acceptable behavior."

Ya know - perhaps this is part of the issue. Our default (as social justice folk) is to attack attack, and the shame thing. But if a person isn't AWARE of what they're doing even needs to be "shamed" then isn't it pointless? I know someone who says a lot of sexist shit. They *KNOW* it's wrong, as they whisper it in hushed tones. The fact they have a certain amount of authority in life means they tend to get a pass from many people, or the "boys will be boys" excuses. The age thing noted above also plays into it (oh, they grew up in a different era).

But I had enough of it, and unfortunately, I haven't been as explicit as I need to with regards to this individual.

But to get back to my original point: if you don't know what you're doing is wrong, you can't be shamed. It's sort of an Adam/Eve thing, no? They were naked, but they didn't know that, I guess, somehow nudity was wrong (?) so they ate the fruit and suddenly was like "oh shit, we're naked! SHAME!"

So trying to shame someone before they have an understanding that what they're doing is wrong (especially since we're living in the racist patriarchy we do inhabit, so these are still strong normative ideas amongst the majority), as much as we've progressed, we're obviously still fighting, which really, isn't that the point of "privilege" -- you're not aware you have it. You're "innocent". People don't *want* to feel guilty/ashamed, so they cling to privilege as much as possible.

I do think it's important to have discussions and try to enlighten people. Of course, their privilege makes them feel attacked so then it gets into MRA/misogynists attacking so called "SJW" via some really horrific "you just proved my point" actions. But there are people who can be reached. People who are on the center of the line, and just need a little extra push/nudge to get to the understanding they need and join the side of the oppressed. I like to think I was one of these middle of the road people.

True Story: Typical white dude - mostly libertarian, though drifted leftward... In a car ride a Tori Amos song came up. I can't recall the exact circumstances. It was a song about her rape. I don't know her music very well, but my ex loved her music. I think the ex had either mentioned the song was important to her, or said something that she related to, or specifically asked me to listen... Anyways, as I did, I said something along the lines of how "this song is just a guilt trip... I'm not like this! (aka: not ALL guys!)" It was our first fight. We lasted 8 years, but even after the breakup are roomies and friends. She taught me a lot. We can be reached, but I think it has to be a long process and I think that while instances that are intense as the aforementioned event are probably necessary, it's not necessary for it to be ALL THAT WAY ALL THE TIME.

In some sense, part of the problem is - when we're online, we're usually on about a particular thing. As much as we like to say the net is a conversation, it's really sequential monologues. Tit for tat "debate"... But without the emotive aspect of real time personal contact/presence. It's real easy to get angry and shout people down when you don't have to face them directly. It's harder to take a nuanced approach...

We really do need to work on and figure out strategies to deal with picking-the ice and making the first dent, and then techniques to slowly chip away, crack that solid defense, to be able to ultimately allow a space and a breathing room for the knight-in-shining-armor, to let them not feel like they have to have that armor up. Chipping that armor is the first bit, then letting them breathe and feel the freedom and appreciate respect for the oppressed, and feel solidarity.

That's not to say we need to give way to the whole "oh make them feel comfortable" because there needs tension, but all tension all the time is a strategic error.
posted by symbioid at 11:07 AM on September 2 [4 favorites]


That's a really good article. Some thoughts:

"2. Lead with our oppressed identities – forgetting that we have immense privilege as well."

This took me a while to figure out. Lead with privilege in a loving, authentic, speaking only for yourself way.

"4. Leading with emotions instead of thinking and acting strategically."

Anyone is free to go read my comments here at mefi and see me fail at this for a damn long while. I've been studying the way Laverne Cox uses positivity and grace as the foundation of language and I've learned a lot from that. Show the way by encouraging people to see the better possibilities. Acknowledge what is broken, but provide actionable solutions that people can use in their everyday lives to better understand themselves relative to this framework of understanding, ease people into it. Find the intersections, gently explore them.

"6. Caught in constant surprise that people do not know what we know."

The dismay that comes with people "not getting it" can be so overwhelming, but to get to a place of explaining without judgement is super freaking important.

Basically, it's easy to be offended, and righteous anger is one of the goals of Social Justice, but understanding that we have to build up to righteous anger in order for it to be effectively heard is something that I think is lost a lot online.

That being said, I love the rabble-rousing inside baseball, the messy politics of it, but where it comes to presenting information to an audience outside the world where people live and breathe this stuff, I think we can all do a better job considering our audience and building better bridges to the more complicated aspects of all this.

As a queer transfeminist student of social justice I really like this article and I am glad someone took the time to write it. The writer well articulates my own growth lately in the space and helps put words to some of the changes I've made in my own interactions with people on this subject.

Thanks for posting!!
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:13 AM on September 2 [16 favorites]


11. Never refer to anything you are doing as "the work."
posted by ennui.bz at 11:19 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


Unless you are Alistair Crowley.
posted by symbioid at 11:33 AM on September 2 [18 favorites]


11. Immediately get skeptical about anybody who feels the need to call out people for being more kinder and gentler to bigots and wonder what their skeletons will reveal,
posted by MartinWisse at 11:37 AM on September 2 [2 favorites]


This strikes me as bizarrely removed from reality. I know a few people who are on the front lines of what I think most people on this thread would call "social justice" work, and they are just about as blunt-spoken, unselfconscious and politically incorrect as a human being could possibly be. You can't possibly be effective as a defense attorney, welfare caseworker or union organizer and be worried about sentimental nostrums or stepping on toes.
posted by MattD at 11:41 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


12. Realize that all who are not with the most righteous amongst you are your enemies and they must be put to the sword.
posted by adipocere at 11:41 AM on September 2 [14 favorites]


and wonder what their skeletons will reveal,

"10 Counterproductive Behaviors of Serial Killers"
posted by kagredon at 11:41 AM on September 2 [5 favorites]


I'm sure the author meant well, but this sort of naive, wouldn't it be nice if everybody was nice article at best will function as more fodder for people wanting to make LOL SJW jokes or perpetuate the idea that the worst thing that could happen is that a white guy gets his feelings hurt on the internet.

I'm sure there's some unwanted aggro and obnoxious behaviour amongst those interested in social justice but you know, what with Ferguson and GamersGate and the unremitting aggression aimed at anybody who tries and speaks up about injustice, this sort of scolding is a distraction.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:46 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


I'm afraid my message is too important to be communicated effectively.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:52 AM on September 2 [16 favorites]


I'm sure the author meant well, but this sort of naive, wouldn't it be nice if everybody was nice article at best will function as more fodder for people wanting to make LOL SJW jokes or perpetuate the idea that the worst thing that could happen is that a white guy gets his feelings hurt on the internet.

To be fair, I think this article actually broke out of that mold a little--about half of the points are iterations on "be as nice as you can", but there's also stuff about acknowledging your own privilege, not ignoring injustice in your own community, and the last paragraph about not erasing other people's pain is really on-point

Of course, it's pretty unsurprising which points people latched on to in this thread.
posted by kagredon at 11:54 AM on September 2 [7 favorites]


It's important to remember the audience for this article is educators.
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:56 AM on September 2 [8 favorites]


I'm sure the author meant well, but this sort of naive, wouldn't it be nice if everybody was nice article at best will function as more fodder for people wanting to make LOL SJW jokes or perpetuate the idea that the worst thing that could happen is that a white guy gets his feelings hurt on the internet.

Yes, the contours of Real and Lasting Progressive Change are one side yelling misogynist! racist! check your privilege! and the other side laughing and telling the other side to go fuck themselves.

I personally found the article a little squishy, but the points about strategic thinking and emotional control are well taken.
posted by echocollate at 11:58 AM on September 2 [6 favorites]


I don't think it's internally inconsistent to be delicate with the feelings of the unexamined-sexist person you're having a polite discussion with while also eyerolling and lulzing at Gamergate conspiracy theorists. People do have a tendency to dig in harder when you question their beliefs aggressively, and it does take courage to let go of those beliefs. Your tone doesn't change whether or not you're right about injustice, but it's foolish to go into consciousness-raising conversations thinking it won't affect how willing others are to listen.
posted by almostmanda at 12:10 PM on September 2 [5 favorites]


You can't possibly be effective as a defense attorney, welfare caseworker or union organizer and be worried about sentimental nostrums or stepping on toes.

You can't possibly be effective as an educator, regulator or mediator and not be worried about consensus-building, or pissing off/on those who need listen.
posted by bonehead at 12:10 PM on September 2 [11 favorites]


11. Immediately get skeptical about anybody who feels the need to call out people for being more kinder and gentler to bigots and wonder what their skeletons will reveal,
Wait a second, I thought that racism and sexism were the water we swim in, and anyone can say something racist or sexist and need to be called on it. It doesn't mean they're an especially bad person; even those of us who try hard and mostly succeed can slip sometimes, and we all benefit if we're called out -- like kagredon said:
Being an ally does not mean you'll never say something racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist/etc., and being an ally doesn't earn you a free pass on getting called on it, and, in fact, reacting with anger and defensiveness when you are is a pretty good sign that solidarity: you're doing it wrong.
But now you're saying that the people who are called out are "bigots" -- it's all or nothing, us vs. them, good vs. evil.

The divide is so stark that anyone who questions the tactics of the call-out is themselves suspect -- root for skeletons in their closets, because it'll probably turn out they're a "bigot" too.
posted by grobstein at 12:13 PM on September 2 [5 favorites]


Yeah, Annika Cicada is right--this is specifically aimed at people who are educators/mediators--so, engaging with the specific goal of educating privileged people, in a structured setting. From that point of view, the greater focus on care with tone is appropriate.

Kind of makes it a weird choice for an FPP, but here we are.

grobstein, that seems like a particularly uncharitable read of MartinWisse's post (granted, I'm not sure exactly what he meant and if/where one should read HAMBURGER.) What I was saying in the part of my comment that you excerpted is closer to that we're all bigots sometimes (because it's unavoidable to internalize some of the bigoted messages of society), not that no one should ever be called a bigot.

And, for the record: when I say something bigoted unintentionally, I hope that the person who calls me on it is understanding about it, but to be honest, I hope much more that no one takes them to task for correcting me, even if their tone is something less than impeccable. Because that sends the message that my comfort as a privileged person can take priority over their right to point out that I'm doing something oppressive, and that's a really horrible message.
posted by kagredon at 12:25 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


I think this person is coming from an earnest and sincere place, but I don't think this kind of stuff is generalizable, except to outsiders jumping up and down yelling about "SJWs" who have already lumped all references to social justice into one bushel.

Most people aren't literally academic diversity directors and are engaging with this stuff on their own time where they can. In the wild, you're balancing lofty goals like change with personal goals like sticking within your own limits and handling your own emotions, but this list is only concerned with the former. You're often the only trans/disabled/etc. person in the discussion, and so as much as you acknowledge your white/economic/etc. privilege, you still have to try to carefully speak up about your issues. Sometimes "jargon" is literally necessary for self-care - I use "cis" unapologetically because I still need to reinforce to myself that the categories are not "trans" and "normal." This naturally excludes some people, but that's a tradeoff I make for myself. (There are of course times where I can educate about the term when necessary!) Sometimes it's okay to lead with emotions - I'm a human being, and my emotions are valid, and so if I just want to vent about how horrible a Louisiana Family Forum bill is I'm not always going to do so with the intention of "producing results." But I can go to the state legislature and talk to a committee about it with a level head and tempered language, too! When I make ironic misandry jokes about current goings-on with feminist gaming friends, I'm primarily blowing off steam. Blowing off steam isn't a strategic policy goal, but it sure is an important personal one.


With regard to the blog entry, the author does say that "nice guys" deserve better than the example five-times-married violent misogynist, in the same sense that the minority worker deserves more out of the capitalist system that's exploiting him, without ever investigating the functions of the word in those two examples. In the latter example, the worker deserves better from the representatives and workings of the economic system he's caught in. In the former example, the "nice guy" deserves attention from women - faceless, unspecified, generalized women, who apparently should be making different choices than they are currently making in furtherance of this romantic utopia where men all have the quantity and quality of women they deserve. Women are not rewards to be distributed fairly, nor are they the bourgeoisie oppressing the proletariat class of men. Mashing up a moral critique of capitalism with a moral critique of who women choose to spend time with is absurd.

Of course, he also directly equates the MRM/PUA ideology with feminism and misandry with misogyny, so there you go.
posted by Corinth at 12:26 PM on September 2 [26 favorites]


[W]e rely––far too often––on ideological purity tests, friend-group tribalism, peer pressure, shaming and ostracism, as well as general shit-talking and internet flame wars. Such behavior has been part of our political culture for a long time.... It is unsurprising, then, that our tendency is to push people out, rather than draw them in; but when we do that, our capacity for meaningful action diminishes. A cycle of suspicion and exclusion takes hold. As we grow less able, and even less interested, in having an effect on the larger society, we become increasingly focused on the ideas and identities of those inside our own circle. We scrutinize one another mercilessly, and when we discover an offense––or merely take offense––we push out those who have lost favor. As our circle grows ever smaller, minor differences take on increasing significance, leading to further suspicion, condemnation, and exclusion––shrinking the circle further still.--"The Politics of Denunciation"
posted by No Robots at 12:36 PM on September 2 [5 favorites]


So, TFB, I did read through that piece, and I fail to see where the assessments about the argument being misogynistic are wrong. The problem with the author's argument is that:

a) he keeps faceplanting into the just world fallacy (his constantly bringing up the serial abuser demonstrates this quite nicely), and

b) he fails to understand (or worse, intentionally misunderstands) what the whole "nice guy (TM)" concept means.

It's the first point that makes his argument inherently misogynistic - by arguing that there is somehow a cosmic unfairness to the abuser having female companionship while he is single, he is necessarily reducing women to an ancillary role to himself and his needs. He's saying that he should be entitled to a woman's romantic companionship, because he would treat her "better" (for a varying value of better).

(Now mind you, the fact that the abuser seems to have no problem finding women while other guys who would be nicer to them is shitty. But, it is not fundamentally unfair, which is where his assessment goes off the rails.)

Now, to link back to the OP, the problem with the argument there about being more conscious of one's position and stridency is that in some cases, you have to take the gloves off. The author of the SSC piece argues that "nice guys" keep getting attacked for their position unfairly when they are seeking help, but:

a) there are, in fact, many resources out there for such individuals who want to change (key point!) that do, in fact, treat them respectfully;

b) that many of these individuals are not seeking help, but confirmation of their toxic mindset; and

c) said toxic mindset is, in fact, harming women, and thus should not be tolerated.

As for why feminists tend to be exceptionally strident on this matter, it has a lot to do with it being a very bad penny that pops up over and over. Patience has limits.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:40 PM on September 2 [9 favorites]


When people ask about Occupy Oakland "How did it go from 10k citizens marching to shut down the Port to 20 people in black hoodies throwing rock-&-paint filled ziplocs at a overwhelming number of Full-Vader-Armor cops on Columbus Day", I will point to this article and say Points 1-10. You wanna fun/depressing party game, go back and queue up some live stream footage OO General assemblies, assign a drink to each point, and see who is still conscious by the time the meeting breaks up & we all start dancing.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:45 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I agree that it's important to read the article in terms of its intended audience: people who actually work as teachers, counselors, advisors, trainers, administrators, etc. in higher education. The techniques you need to use to promote inclusion, access, and social justice within that context are a rather different enchilada from how people might choose to "educate" others in an activist, political, community leadership, or Internet conversation setting.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:46 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


When people ask about Occupy Oakland "How did it go from 10k citizens marching to shut down the Port to 20 people in black hoodies throwing rock-&-paint filled ziplocs at a overwhelming number of Full-Vader-Armor cops on Columbus Day", I will point to this article and say Points 1-10.

Buh? I thought the reason was that a small group of black bloccers got a disproportionate level of attention, not at all helped by OPD's general attitude of "why de-escalate when you can ESCALATE." Draw me a line back to what this has to do with discussing privilege?
posted by kagredon at 12:58 PM on September 2


I notice that quite a few communities give their elders a pass. We choose not to challenge them or set our expectations. However, we have little issue setting colleagues and strangers "straight".
I get the first part of this, but something about the second rubs me the wrong way.

"Constantly calling out strangers" does not strike me as being an effective or healthy way of doing activism, and is directly contrary to several of the other points on the list.

In the context of being a professional educator, this makes sense... In any other, it's hostile and counterproductive.
posted by schmod at 1:03 PM on September 2


The first point is a slight bit confusing but I wonder if the point is not that you can't (or shouldn't) shame anyone at all, but that you should specifically avoid shaming allies. In other words, don't call out people who mostly agree with you but are wrong on some things. I suppose it's still subject to the "just world" fallacy (a term whose meaning I'm only guessing at, but I assume it's the fallacy of assuming everyone is a just actor), but I feel like the use of the term "ally" would include people you've already vetted as just actors.

As a weird aside (that we can remove if it's too much of a derail): what's up with the book cover designs? They're very oddly similar to these web development ebooks from Five Simple Steps.
posted by chrominance at 1:04 PM on September 2


> the fact that the abuser seems to have no problem finding women while other guys who
> would be nicer to them is shitty. But, it is not fundamentally unfair, which is where his
> assessment goes off the rails

Does "unfair" have a special meaning? (Don't bother if it's a derail, though.)


> I suppose it's still subject to the "just world" fallacy (a term whose meaning I'm only
> guessing at, but I assume it's the fallacy of assuming everyone is a just actor)

It's believing that somehow, in the end, people get what they deserve.
posted by jfuller at 1:13 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


I suppose it's still subject to the "just world" fallacy (a term whose meaning I'm only guessing at, but I assume it's the fallacy of assuming everyone is a just actor)

The "just world fallacy" is a belief that bad things will happen to bad people and good things will happen to good people. I believe Nox's criticism was that most of that article's questions can be answered with "life isn't fair." (Of course, life should be as fair as we can make it, but I think we can all agree that it is not and will never be perfectly so.)
posted by john-a-dreams at 1:15 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Ironically enough, your definition of the just world fallacy pretty well gets at what "unfair" means in that sentence. There's nothing unfair about the writer not having a girlfriend, because no one deserves a girlfriend. Girlfriends are not earned rewards.
posted by kagredon at 1:18 PM on September 2 [13 favorites]


I need to re-read the SSC entry then. My initial reading was that the author agreed that life wasn't fair and that the response should be, as opposed to Nice Guys deserving women, that people ought to be able to complain about something that isn't meeting their expectations without falling into one of two camps. Not that the common worker should automatically receive more pay but that the common worker shouldn't be labeled a scrounger, welfare queen, and Red for raising the very valid complaint about working two full time jobs and not being able to make ends meet.

And more than that, seeing the complaint of "this isn't what I expected" as a cue for outside course correction and education that will help the individual understand what they've done wrong (or how to find ways out of a shit situation that they aren't aware of, in terms of the worker). IIRC, the author at the end points out that there are people who will complain along the lines of, "I'm not getting what I'm entitled to" which is a cue for people especially gifted in breaking down privilege and leading people to a better understanding to step in. Or for people to flee in terror.
posted by Slackermagee at 1:23 PM on September 2 [6 favorites]


Not that the common worker should automatically receive more pay but that the common worker shouldn't be labeled a scrounger, welfare queen, and Red for raising the very valid complaint about working two full time jobs and not being able to make ends meet.

This seems like a hair-splitting distinction though, no? If it's a "valid complaint", then the solution to it is to receive more pay. The validity of the complaint is predicated on the assumption that there is a fair amount of pay to receive for a given amount of work. But you can't transfer that to "there is a fair amount of dates to get for a given amount of being a nice guy."
posted by kagredon at 1:29 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


Sorry I posted the comment as complimentary to the points made in the OP not to let people derail by arguing about who has actually read the article I linked too and who just thinks they have. I think we should talk mostly about the OP now again please.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:31 PM on September 2


It's not so much that "life isn't fair", but that just because you do X does not mean that Y should necessarily follow. Just because you treat people better than a serial abuser does (and let's be honest, that's a very low bar to clear) does not mean that you should have a relationship if he does. Furthermore, using a serial abuser as your reference point undermines your own argument that you're looking for something more than a purely physical relationship, as the relationships he formed are anything but healthy.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:34 PM on September 2 [7 favorites]


grobstein, that seems like a particularly uncharitable read of MartinWisse's post (granted, I'm not sure exactly what he meant and if/where one should read HAMBURGER.) What I was saying in the part of my comment that you excerpted is closer to that we're all bigots sometimes (because it's unavoidable to internalize some of the bigoted messages of society), not that no one should ever be called a bigot.
I'm pretty sure "bigot" is being used to divide people into groups (bigot and not), not unify them under the supposition that we are all bigots ("sometimes" or otherwise). ("Friends! Bigots! Lend me your ears!") If we take your interpretation, where "bigot" just means "human in the grip of a transient misunderstanding," then Martin's comment condemns suggestions we should be kinder or gentler to humans (when they make a kind of slip that we all often do). This would be troubling if it was what he meant. But I don't think it's what he meant. Perhaps he will come in to clarify. Perhaps this is an ironic inversion and he means almost the opposite of what he said.

But I think this is symptomatic of a more general tendency to forget the lessons of Hominins 101 when the topic of social justice comes up.

People really like to divide in-group from out-group, and condemn the out-group. In this case, the parsimonious reading of "bigots" seems to be: "Them."

People will take advantage of slim excuses to be nasty to each other. If we tell people that some forms of nastiness are beyond reproach, they will deploy those forms of nastiness with increased frequency and intensity. This is exactly what the discourse of "tone argument" has accomplished. People learn the lesson that nastiness in the service of "call outs" is beyond reproach, and they respond by being nastier and nastier. I wrote about this in a previous comment. And here.

None of this is to say that people interested in social justice are especially mean or nasty. The opposite is probably true. But the audience for this kind of stuff is pretty large, and it is behaviorally more or less like everyone else. All of us are cruel sometimes; some of us often; all of us are crueler when we can be so without consequence; and some of us will expend great effort to exploit such opportunities. So when you send the cultural message that it's okay to be shitty to certain kinds of people in certain ways, your audience will practice more of that kind of nastiness. People learn. You can't think that just because you're the good guys that people can't use your ideas to justify cruelty. People are very good at spotting and exploiting low-cost opportunities to be cruel. When you promote the idea that it is wrong to criticize cruelty, you are creating opportunities for more cruelty.
posted by grobstein at 1:40 PM on September 2 [18 favorites]


Sorry I posted the comment as complimentary to the points made in the OP not to let people derail by arguing about who has actually read the article I linked too and who just thinks they have. I think we should talk mostly about the OP now again please.

Why you saw it as complimentary illustrates a reoccurring problem with the OP's argument, though. Yes, educators need to be willing to work with and engage those who want to learn without shaming or demeaning them. But educators will also have to engage with people who have no interest in learning, who seek to further their own corrosive views - and that dialogue requires very different strategies.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:41 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


I'm operating on pretty much the blandest definition of "bigot" possible--"person who is exhibiting bigoted actions or attitudes." I don't actually think it matters in the vast majority of cases what the history of that particular person's bigotry or lack thereof is--no one has the bandwidth for that. What matters is right now, the bigoted attitude that they're expressing. I think that moving the focus to whether or not that bigoted attitude is being called out with sufficient gentleness is a derailing tactic.
posted by kagredon at 1:47 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


The problem with your argument, grobstein, is that rejecting a regularly forwarded argument that is regularly made in bad faith in a blunt manner can hardly be said to be cruel. There are entire strategies to controlling discourse built on exploiting the use of empathy by one's opponent, which is why there needs to be the question of whether the point is being raised genuinely. Using a known bad argument will automatically bias that evaluation against you - for example, the courts won't even hear a tax protestor argument, and will charge a defendant raising one with contempt for doing so.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:01 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


If the Nice Guy phenomenon were about dating being difficult rather than heterosexual men's entitlement, I feel like I'd see more (or anything) about Nice Guys who want to date other guys, and Nice Gals of various orientations.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:03 PM on September 2 [6 favorites]


If we tell people that some forms of nastiness are beyond reproach, they will deploy those forms of nastiness with increased frequency and intensity. This is exactly what the discourse of "tone argument" has accomplished. People learn the lesson that nastiness in the service of "call outs" is beyond reproach, and they respond by being nastier and nastier.

Yes. Yes, yes. This is getting into Grey territory here, but one thing that's clear in this and other communities is that if certain arguments get a pass on being made nastily, those arguments will be embraced by those who mostly just want to be vicious.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 2:06 PM on September 2 [6 favorites]


I want to know what I am missing, what mistake I am making that you could think that the article I linked to indicates a person with no interest in learning.

Have you read his & his girlfriends prior posts looking at and systematically destroying the arguments of the , libertarians and neo-reactionaries and MRA / PUA guys?

If you really think my post was linking to someone who has no interest in learning then I don't know what to say. How can you say he is trying to intentionally misrepresent a position when he takes care to exactly quote what he is arguing against in his post.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 2:08 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


he is necessarily reducing women to an ancillary role to himself and his needs. He's saying that he should be entitled to a woman's romantic companionship, because he would treat her "better" (for a varying value of better).

No, he's not. He's talking about loneliness. Is anyone that ever feels lonely and wants companionship reducing others to ancillary roles? He's saying he is wondering what's wrong with himself, why, say, the company of an abusive asshole like "Henry" seems to be more sought after than his own. The point is not everyone that asks "why does no one like me that way?" is a fedora-sporting OKCupid misogynist that thinks they're entitled to sex or whatever the fuck the "Nice Guy (TM)" caricature represents. There are also a lot of lonely people wondering if/why they are beneath being loved by another human being in a romantic sense, who don't feel "entitled" to anything. I happen to think it is shitty to seek out and emphasize the worst possible motivation behind someone's feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem, but hey, knock yourself out, folks.
posted by Hoopo at 2:11 PM on September 2 [31 favorites]


I think that moving the focus to whether or not that bigoted attitude is being called out with sufficient gentleness is a derailing tactic.

Tone arguments are a derail when the focus is on raising awareness or rallying support. Tone arguments detract from the clarity of the message. However, this supposes a sympathetic or sufficiently open-minded audience to whom you are trying to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem. This is the point of most activist behaviour.

Tone arguments are entirely the point when engaging a less sympathetic audience. If you're trying to convince someone who is apathetic or already disposed to hostility, how you communicate is critical. If you choose not to talk to them in language they feel appropriate, on their own terms, they are mostly likely to withdraw or turn actively hostile themselves. In either case, you've failed. Indeed, you've likely hardened positions and reduced the chance for a productive outcome.
posted by bonehead at 2:21 PM on September 2 [11 favorites]


I've found that, IRL, trying to appease a hostile audience by being playing the nice trans girl does fuck all to prevent hostility from happening, and rather, that if I stare at someone like that in their eyes with a threatening glare and speak with a tone that indicates I am not afraid to defend myself DOES lead to an apathetic and potentially hostile person to back way the hell down on their stance and give me more respect than they otherwise would, so I read what you are saying but sometimes the objective is to keep someone from verbally/mentally/physically hurting you.

YMMV, but tone with a less sympathetic audience is exactly where you need to employ anger and fearsomeness. Playing nice with those types is in my personal experience, a reckless behavior.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:31 PM on September 2 [9 favorites]


If the Nice Guy phenomenon were about dating being difficult rather than heterosexual men's entitlement, I feel like I'd see more (or anything) about Nice Guys who want to date other guys, and Nice Gals of various orientations.

To be fair, I have seen a lot of people of various genders and orientations on Metafilter talk about having to learn lessons about "being friends with someone does not necessarily lead to a relationship" and "rejection hurts, but it is not necessarily a failing of either you or the person who rejected you" and "sometimes people you like will choose relationships with people who you think are awful, and you will be bewildered and maybe even angry" and "no one owes you a relationship", etc. The thing with Nice Guys is that there's a certain strain of toxic masculinity that, rather than internalizing those lessons as part of growing up, decide to lash out at them.

I do think straight guys (or people who pass as straight guys) get more of that toxic masculinity leveled at them ("fucking betas"), though, which is sad. I'd love to see more alternatives to PUAs that break it down--I know of Captain Awkward and Doctor Nerdlove and I'm not super-familiar with him but I think John Green has contributed on this front as well--but there could always be more.

"The people that you're interested in are like you, people with thoughts and hopes and needs and preferences. The people that are interested in you are like spiders: they're just as afraid of you as you are of them. You are like a spider. You live in a house that came out of your butt."
posted by kagredon at 2:32 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


More/less sympathetic isn't a useful measure, because it ignores that an audience can be hostile.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:37 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


No, he's not. He's talking about loneliness. Is anyone that ever feels lonely and wants companionship reducing others to ancillary roles? He's saying he is wondering what's wrong with himself, why, say, the company of an abusive asshole like "Henry" seems to be more sought after than his own. The point is not everyone that asks "why does no one like me that way?" is a fedora-sporting OKCupid misogynist that thinks they're entitled to sex or whatever the fuck the "Nice Guy (TM)" caricature represents. There are also a lot of lonely people wondering if/why they are beneath being loved by another human being in a romantic sense, who don't feel "entitled" to anything. I happen to think it is shitty to seek out and emphasize the worst possible motivation behind someone's feelings of loneliness and low self-esteem, but hey, knock yourself out, folks.

I went through that phase myself, where I wondered why anyone would actually like me. It was so bad, I had at one point reached an unhealthy skepticism of anyone showing me any sort of attraction, because I was sure that they couldn't be interested in me, so there was some ulterior motive.

What got me out of that was realizing that the issue was not with the world, but with myself. It wasn't an easy lesson to internalize, but I came out of doing so much more emotionally healthy. I also came to realize what I wanted in a relationship, and what I wasn't willing to compromise on. (That was a hard-won lesson as well.)

So, I've actually been there, and understand the thought process. But I also understand how absolutely corrosive it is, and how the person who is mired in it needs to be willing to engage in some introspection to actually climb out.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:50 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


the objective is to keep someone from verbally/mentally/physically hurting you

I get that, but that's not what the linked article is about. It's about coming at this from a position of some privilege, an educator's in this example, and getting apathetic or hostile people to change their minds. In that case, in fact, the exact opposite is necessary. Reacting to hostility with anger or emotion will immediately be dismissed and shut out.

Tone, or better, taking an attitude of respect, along with honesty and transparency, has been absolutely crucial, in my experience, in the work to establishing trust and constructive relationships.

I totally get that for a single individual, particularly dealing with a hostile group, this can be effectively impossible. Keep in mind though, that this advice is for people with institutional and other resources to draw on, in a controlled environment, like a classroom. It's not meant for someone dealing with harassers on the street or trolls on-line.
posted by bonehead at 2:52 PM on September 2 [8 favorites]


Buh? I thought the reason was that a small group of black bloccers got a disproportionate level of attention, not at all helped by OPD's general attitude of "why de-escalate when you can ESCALATE." Draw me a line back to what this has to do with discussing privilege?

Yes to both of those.

AND from my POV behind a livestream, shrill, purer-than-thou, & confrontation-as-its-own-goal were modes that drove a lot if middle-class support away.

Not all social-justice-scolds were paint-throwing, window-smashing black-blockers.

But a lot if them were, & the rest gave them cover at the GA. Till the GA got smaller & smaller & faded away into irrelevance on the streets of Oakland long before it finally died.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:57 PM on September 2


RE: Metaphor tortured enough? Cool.

What your describing is probably concisely described as a continual improvement process.

:)

Great post, thanks!!!
posted by JoeXIII007 at 2:57 PM on September 2 [2 favorites]


right bonehead, and if you read my earlier comments you will see that I agree that in a more structured and educational setting it's important to manage one's passion and emotional state, sorry to mis-read your comment, but in the flow of the thread it seemed the conversation was drifting away from staying focused on educational settings. (which is something I tried upthread to remind people of)

Tone argument discussions rarely go well here for me anyway, so I am probably not the best person to wade into one. Thanks for the clarification.
posted by Annika Cicada at 2:59 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Have you read his & his girlfriends prior posts looking at and systematically destroying the arguments of the , libertarians and neo-reactionaries and MRA / PUA guys?

Howard Tayler put it best: The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy, nothing more. Just because someone may make a good argument in one place doesn't mean they're immune from making a bad argument somewhere else. (This is one of the big issues behind all the problems we see with skepticism and feminism.)

If you really think my post was linking to someone who has no interest in learning then I don't know what to say. How can you say he is trying to intentionally misrepresent a position when he takes care to exactly quote what he is arguing against in his post.

Quotation shows neither comprehension, understanding, nor honestly recounting the position of one's opponent.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:05 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


"I didn’t think I deserved to have the prettiest girl in school prostrate herself at my feet. But I did think I deserved to not be doing worse than Henry."
That is what he said. This is an instance where the disclaimer actually makes it worse, because it implies that the Worst Guys should have the fewest, ugliest women and the Nicest Guys should have the most, prettiest women. In this worldview, women aren't people, but rather male status symbols. If women do not sort themselves appropriately according to his perceptions of female attractiveness and male status, Something Is Wrong. Just because he's talking about it candidly and dispassionately doesn't mean the underlying attitude isn't a problem. Generally, women aren't recreationally mocking these men for being "unattractive and unhappy," they're mocking the patriarchal idea that men "deserve" women in any capacity. Given the recent context of the Isla Vista violence, it feels a lot like a solidarity mechanism.



I certainly "fail" some interactions. But literally nobody has the infinite patience to always give perfect, personalized tutoring to people who need it. If, sometimes, I get too worked up about crappy behavior to be perfect and I lose a few people who think I'm too emotional or whatever, that's okay. That happens. I know it happens. Again, sometimes cultural goals and personal goals and local social goals can be constantly shifting around. I know that I would achieve maximum good by always approaching people on their own terms, starting from where they are, and being patient and obsequious. But I'm not a robot, so that simply isn't possible for me, and it's not possible for anybody, and it's often even less possible for more marginalized people who may have already exceeded their daily capacity to process bullshit.

It's okay professional/academic advice, but it certainly seems - in content and spread if not in framing - to be aimed more at the internet at large, where it's not super applicable.
posted by Corinth at 3:31 PM on September 2 [9 favorites]


Jesus, Elvis, & Buddha, im gonna start a database on how many threads get hijacked by the "friendzone" whine.

Its like an inescapable drain that discussions
cant help but circle.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:01 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


I've learned a lot from people pointing out alternatives to my thoughts and ideas.

Guilt and Shame, I've learned some things from that. Not my preferred mode of dialogue.
posted by ovvl at 5:01 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


I didn’t think I deserved to have the prettiest girl in school prostrate herself at my feet. But I did think I deserved to not be doing worse than Henry.

Corinth, I got a lot from that article. I hope you did read it all, because that line is basically a flashback ("I’m still a nice guy at heart, I just happen to mysteriously have picked up girlfriends") and the article is actually about not being viciously mean to people who are suffering. Here's the advice he would like to give people men who ask "why things are so unfair":
It is the answer I gave to my patient Dan: “Yeah, things are unfair. I can’t do anything about it, but I’m sorry for your pain. Here is a list of resources that might be able to help you.”

There is also a more complicated reply, which I am not qualified to compose, but I think the gist of it would be something like:
Personal virtue is not very well correlated with ease of finding a soulmate. It may be only slightly correlated, uncorrelated, or even anti-correlated in different situations. Even smart people who want various virtues in a soulmate usually use them as a rule-out criterion, rather than a rule-in criterion – that is, given someone whom they are already attracted to, they will eliminate him if he does not have those virtues. The rule-in criterion that makes you attractive to people is mysterious and mostly orthogonal to virtue. This is true both in men and women, but in different ways. Male attractiveness seems to depend on things like a kind of social skills which is not necessarily the same kind of social skills people who want to teach you social skills will teach, testosterone level, social status, and whatever you call the ability to just ask someone out, consequences be damned. These can be obtained in very many different ways that are partly within your control, but they are complicated and subtle and if you naively aim for cliched versions of the terms you will fail. There is a lot of good discussion about how to get these things. Here is a list of resources that might be able to help you.
That's pretty good advice; not just for men; and not just for dating.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:50 PM on September 2 [7 favorites]


YMMV, but tone with a less sympathetic audience is exactly where you need to employ anger and fearsomeness.

YMMV but it seems it may be a good tactic but a poor strategy.
posted by MikeMc at 7:21 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


"No, he's not. He's talking about loneliness. Is anyone that ever feels lonely and wants companionship reducing others to ancillary roles?"

Depends on how you define loneliness here; I'd say no, but given how you're phrasing it, you seem to be implying that it's not probable.

"He's saying he is wondering what's wrong with himself, why, say, the company of an abusive asshole like "Henry" seems to be more sought after than his own."

Sought after by whom? …by the ancillary actors under the class "women." (women.romantic, even). It's a fundamentally mistaken view of human interaction, and one that specifically relies upon seeing "women.romantic" as an undifferentiated class. If they were distinct actors, then there's no comparison, something that can be quickly illuminated in the negative: These women "Henry" was with didn't sound all that great either, but the person isn't asking, "Why can't I find victims of domestic violence to prey upon?" Women aren't widgets, despite the reasonableness of fish versus sea metaphors. Some women want terrible relationships, due to all sorts of fucked up reasons.

Look, I've had these feelings too, along with the attendant post-adolescent "Maybe I'm just gay" nonsense. And now, with clear eyes, I can say that a lot of it was because I was a bit of a jerk and was picky and didn't actually make dating a huge priority relative to my mopery. I could have solved some of the problem by doing things differently than I did; I did actually solve some of those problems by doing things differently than I had been doing. Some of that was because I was afraid to do things that would have put me more out there, some of it was because I'm a cranky bastard with strong opinions and very little desire to compromise on some core values, and some of it was because I just hadn't met the right people, and a fair amount of it was recognizing those things but feeling like I shouldn't have to change just to meet a girl.

Yes, loneliness is real and can be crushing, especially with depression, and I don't want to minimize that, and it often goes far beyond just romantic pair stuff. But there's also a constant narrative that men deserve women and that men are the subject actors and women are the object rewards, and if you're not conventionally attractive (and even sometimes when you are), it can take a bit of self confidence to reject the dominant framing even while a lack of self confidence is a common problem for people who want to solve this problem for themselves.
posted by klangklangston at 7:55 PM on September 2 [10 favorites]


Sought after by whom? …by the ancillary actors under the class "women." (women.romantic, even). It's a fundamentally mistaken view of human interaction, and one that specifically relies upon seeing "women.romantic" as an undifferentiated class.

A guy this self-aware is not going to be trying to emulate Henry's dysfunctional relationships people, c'mon - he's wondering why Henry gets laid seemingly at will while he cannot and I'm not joking. Sex is a basic human need; things aren't adding up and he's trying to figure it out.

Everyone acts like "Well, you wouldn't want the dysfunctional sort of relationship that Henry has, stop treating 'women' like they are all alike" and really missing the point. He's a walking definition of sexually frustrated and why is this? Why is this true of lots of men?

Lots of men seem to be making lots of progress in their personal lives with these lines of questioning.
posted by unixrat at 8:33 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


While shame might not be a great way to bring people into the fold immediately, pointing out outlyingly bigoted behavior to mock and shame can be a great way to create a standard within a community that says "don't be that guy". It's the basic "exception who proves the rule" thing that happens when you look at deviant behavior: you see the person who's acting like an outlier and how the rest of the group reacts to them and then you avoid acting like that because you don't want to be treated that way.

You have to be careful about it, because a lot of people use this kind of thing to amplify existing marginalizations, and social justice spheres often have issues with people reacting disproportionately to someone displaying bigoted behavior if they are a POC or female or trans* or a member of another marginalized group in a way that they wouldn't if that person was not a member of said group; I see a lot of tumblr folks using the phrase "your white fave" when talking about this. (An example is the way that Chris Rock in particular is singled out as an abuser: there are many, many "white faves" who are also abusers, but the single person who is thought of as someone in the music industry who is a domestic abuser is black, and the fact that they call him and him alone out is very telling.)

If people can be educated, that's great, but forcing societal change through mockery and shame works. Racists are still gonna be shitty, but they're gonna be less shitty, because they don't want to look racist. Sometimes this happens culture-wide and sometimes it happens within a smaller community, but when you create an environment where people are willing to act less like the bigoted jackass that they have inside their hearts in order to fit in better, you have a somewhat better environment.

It's the difference between convincing people to be good because they want to be, because decency, because humanity, and because they do not want to go to hell when they die/do not want to go to jail/do not want to get yelled at/etc. Obviously there's one that's considered much better than the other, but a lot of the time that's not an option. Making fun of people who are shitty about this kind of thing makes it clear that you aren't going to put up with that shit and that people should avoid it around you, and hey, maybe that'll turn into a habit, which would be great.
posted by NoraReed at 9:05 PM on September 2


"A guy this self-aware is not going to be trying to emulate Henry's dysfunctional relationships people, c'mon - he's wondering why Henry gets laid seemingly at will while he cannot and I'm not joking."

Laid by whom? Again, this only works if women aren't individuals, but rather an undifferentiated mass.

"Everyone acts like "Well, you wouldn't want the dysfunctional sort of relationship that Henry has, stop treating 'women' like they are all alike" and really missing the point. He's a walking definition of sexually frustrated and why is this? Why is this true of lots of men? "

Sure, OK, why is this? Go for it.

"Lots of men seem to be making lots of progress in their personal lives with these lines of questioning."

Sure, but a huge number of men, ones who might generally be dubbed "Nice Guys," have answers to that line of questioning that 1) treat women as an undifferentiated class that they deserve access to, and 2) blame women and feminism for that loneliness.
posted by klangklangston at 9:08 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


"(An example is the way that Chris Rock in particular is singled out as an abuser: there are many, many "white faves" who are also abusers, but the single person who is thought of as someone in the music industry who is a domestic abuser is black, and the fact that they call him and him alone out is very telling.)"

You mean Chris Brown? Chris Rock has his own shit, but he's pretty clear about how you don't hit women.
posted by klangklangston at 9:14 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


oh my god you're right; I think I saw those referenced at once in an anti-violence thing and mixed up the names

that was actually really shitty of me, I probably would not have mixed up white Chrises like that. I'll be sure to google before referencing shit like that when I'm not super familiar with the person in question in the future. thanks for the correction.
posted by NoraReed at 9:21 PM on September 2 [1 favorite]


kagredon: Good intentions are not what make an ally. Being willing to do the hard work of examining your own biases and call them out in yourself as well as others: that's what makes an ally.

This is absolutely correct. Combining this thought with the article's unspoken question leads to, how do facilitators create allies out of doubters in the first place? The courage to face up to and utterly rewrite one's own privileged identity and subsequent view of the world is not something that happens instantly when a person with privilege is first told about the idea of privilege. The Catch 22 is that a person with privilege doesn't seem to deserve the sympathy and patience of a person with a complementary lack of privilege but some kind of a person-to-person relationship is the only key that will open a doubters' lock.

The only consolation is that we all have privilege in some realm and lack of privilege in another, which means that we all have complementary sets of keys and locks if we can use our own fumbling as a guide to help have the empathy to overlook the errs of others.

The documentary The Color of Fear gives an example of a facilitator so light-handed that you'll miss the pivot point if you blink.

Very few people have the gentle perseverance for that kind of work. The key word really is "facilitator." You can't lecture it into someone. The facilitator connects key-holders to lock-holders. Nothing more.
posted by Skwirl at 9:49 PM on September 2 [4 favorites]


I liked the original article. I think it's often difficult for the social justice-inclined to acknowledge that there can be problems in how they say things or what they're saying, because they're so clearly on the side of right and disagreement so clearly comes from the side of wrong.

A continued point made in conversations about these issues is that if you're criticised on the topic by someone who might know more about it than you, you should listen, and accept, and think about what's said rather than immediately get defensive. That should apply here, as well. You see echoes of that from people saying things akin to, 'But we're not educators so not the target, and some people can't be reached, and shaming is valuable to display in-group solidarity...' Of course, this is where we get into 'your kneejerk defensiveness is my reasoned response', but intransigent thought comes in all forms.

I also think a handy point 11 to remember could be, 'Just because you have given up on someone as unreachable, doesn't mean they are, and doesn't mean anyone else who tries with them is wasting their time.' Unreachable is a value judgement, not a basic fact.
posted by gadge emeritus at 10:10 PM on September 2 [3 favorites]


"that was actually really shitty of me, I probably would not have mixed up white Chrises like that."

I'm white and mix up white Chrises all the time.
posted by klangklangston at 1:36 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


When I think of all of the ways that shame has been used as a means of social control in ways that have negatively impacted marginalized groups, including but not limited to

women (shame about their bodies, their dual roles as workers/mothers, their sexuality)

gays/transgendered persons (shame about deviating from the "norm" with regard to sexual preference or gender identity)

african americans/blacks (jesus, pick one),

I'm disheartened by the enthusiasm of some on the left to coopt it as an agent in the ongoing social justice wars.

Yea, at this point I sound like a broken record, and for that I apologize. But I still feel the best way to project change is to live a good, solid, consistent example for young people and to engage people strategically when good opportunities arise.

And if someone is being a straight up asshole to someone else—not just exhibiting a "difference of opinion" but being openly hostile and shitty—knock them on their ass.
posted by echocollate at 6:25 AM on September 3 [4 favorites]


great article, great discussion. I particularly liked the slatestarcodex article and the articles linked to by that.

Sought after by whom? …by the ancillary actors under the class "women." (women.romantic, even). It's a fundamentally mistaken view of human interaction, and one that specifically relies upon seeing "women.romantic" as an undifferentiated class. If they were distinct actors, then there's no comparison, something that can be quickly illuminated in the negative: These women "Henry" was with didn't sound all that great either, but the person isn't asking, "Why can't I find victims of domestic violence to prey upon?" Women aren't widgets, despite the reasonableness of fish versus sea metaphors. Some women want terrible relationships, due to all sorts of fucked up reasons.

Klagklangston, you are are strongly arguing for the point that treating women as undifferentiated - making no distinction between the persons and their individual reasons for rejecting the nice guy.

But it also seems to me like a lot of the discourse about "nice guys" does the exact same thing, where each person is seen as having identical motives, identical misconceptions, and identical opportunities to better themselves.

Do you think we should apply your framework to this as well and treat lonely men as individuals and speak to their individual problems without grouping them together into a generic "nice guy?" Or do you think that there's something different about this group of people that allows such a grouping?
posted by rebent at 6:30 AM on September 3 [4 favorites]


As an addendum to my previous post, I'm in no way suggesting that the way marginalized groups have been shamed is equivalent to the way the marginalizing groups have. Only that I'm uncomfortable with shame as a tactic and skeptical of its effectiveness.
posted by echocollate at 6:37 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


The Catch 22 is that a person with privilege doesn't seem to deserve the sympathy and patience of a person with a complementary lack of privilege but some kind of a person-to-person relationship is the only key that will open a doubters' lock.

But this problem goes away when we're talking about professional educators, which is the intended audience for the piece. A paid, trained facilitator is pretty much being paid for their sympathy and patience.

I've never seen a marginalized person say that they will never educate people with privilege, just that they resent and refuse doing it for free, on demand.

Being sympathetic and patient and knowledgeable enough to engage people productively on these topics is a skillset, and undertaking it is work. What happens in online discussions is that people with privilege take this work for granted and demand it as the price of admission for already overburdened people without whatever privilege is being discussed.

We absolutely need more educators! College professors, lecturers, workshop facilitators, authors. And we absolutely need to pay them for their time and work and knowledge.

And anyone who demands or expects other people in their lives to do that work for free need to realize what they're asking, and stop it.
posted by jaguar at 7:04 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


Klagklangston, you are are strongly arguing for the point that treating women as undifferentiated - making no distinction between the persons and their individual reasons for rejecting the nice guy.

But it also seems to me like a lot of the discourse about "nice guys" does the exact same thing, where each person is seen as having identical motives, identical misconceptions, and identical opportunities to better themselves.


I don't mean to speak for klangklangston, but "women" is a biological group (I'm counting trans people as biologically their desired gender) and "guys who think they are nice and are upset about why women don't want them" is a group comprising people who all think a certain way and hold certain beliefs about the world. It is absolutely valid to talk about the belief systems of a group that exists only because its member hold the same beliefs, in a way that it is not valid to discuss the belief system of a group that exists because of its members' biology.
posted by jaguar at 7:07 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


I don't think pigeonholing the list of things to look out for in the original post as "for educators and experts only" is all that great an idea either.

Anyone has the possibility to become more empathetic, a better listener and communicator. There are times and places where using these techniques isn't the right thing to do, for personal safety or sanity, or even for simple lack of time, but that doesn't mean these reminders are not useful in non-professional life. I'm nowhere near perfect, but I think learning some of these lessons has helped me be a better person, not just better at work.
posted by bonehead at 7:39 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Corinth, I got a lot from that article. I hope you did read it all, because that line is basically a flashback ("I’m still a nice guy at heart, I just happen to mysteriously have picked up girlfriends") and the article is actually about not being viciously mean to people who are suffering. Here's the advice he would like to give people men who ask "why things are so unfair":

The problem with that argument, Joe, is that the situation isn't unfair. Yes, it's shitty, but it is not unfair that the abuser seems to have no problem with women, while guys who appear to be decent struggle to connect. The reason it feels like it's unfair is because people want to - for a number of reasons - believe in the just world fallacy. But that's a fallacy, and a quite dangerous one at that, as the just world fallacy is at the heart of many justifications for actual inequality, such as prosperity theology. And arguing that this situation is unfair is inherently misogynistic, because it says that there should be a certain way that women view and approach men.

So any advice to these men who say this situation is unfair has to explain that no, the situation actually isn't unfair. Yes, they're suffering, but feeding into their erroneous belief that their suffering is due to an inherent unfairness does them a vast disservice, because it prevents them from getting to the key realization that they need to look at themselves. And it does the rest of us a disservice because it continues to prop up some very toxic beliefs that hurt not just their holders, but the rest of us as well.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:40 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


"guys who think they are nice and are upset about why women don't want them" is a group comprising people who all think a certain way and hold certain beliefs about the world.

These claims are assumptions you cannot possibly know for certain and which I doubt very much.
posted by echocollate at 7:42 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


My group is rich and varied and utterly diverse, filled with free thinkers, while your group consists of clones practically stamped out of a mold. I know this because of Reasons. *beep boop* De-hum-an-i-za-tion-com-pleeete.
posted by adipocere at 8:02 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


I love how awkward guys who aren't finding success atracting dating/sexual partners is now a social justice issue.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:12 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


So any advice to these men who say this situation is unfair has to explain that no, the situation actually isn't unfair. Yes, they're suffering, but feeding into their erroneous belief that their suffering is due to an inherent unfairness does them a vast disservice, because it prevents them from getting to the key realization that they need to look at themselves. And it does the rest of us a disservice because it continues to prop up some very toxic beliefs that hurt not just their holders, but the rest of us as well.

NoxAeternum, I feel like I'm taking crazy pills here. You want them to self-realize that the question (why is this unfair?) that results from their suffering is a bad one and that picking apart why its a bad question can lead to improvement. The author argues that someone other than the individual asking the question should lean in and acknowledge the suffering, acknowledge that the question is being asked, and help the individual reach the realization needed (that the question is not the right question and that the individual needs to change). His conclusion is that the person suffering is at a tipping point between 'getting it' and falling into the toxic morass of "but I'm entitled to that!". And that you shouldn't be surprised if, lacking any help or compassion or someone who treats them as a person and not the enemy, they fail and become one of Those Guys.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:15 AM on September 3 [6 favorites]


"I blame society," he said, as he fixed the fedora upon his head.
posted by fleacircus at 8:19 AM on September 3 [1 favorite]


You want them to self-realize that the question (why is this unfair?) that results from their suffering is a bad one and that picking apart why its a bad question can lead to improvement. The author argues that someone other than the individual asking the question should lean in and acknowledge the suffering, acknowledge that the question is being asked, and help the individual reach the realization needed (that the question is not the right question and that the individual needs to change). His conclusion is that the person suffering is at a tipping point between 'getting it' and falling into the toxic morass of "but I'm entitled to that!". And that you shouldn't be surprised if, lacking any help or compassion or someone who treats them as a person and not the enemy, they fail and become one of Those Guys.

Except that his whole argument is that they are right for believing that the situation is unfair. That's not helpful - in fact, it's directly harmful. As I said earlier, there are plenty of resources for these guys who genuinely want help and want to change - but they all are going to start from the point that no, it's not unfair that you're alone while the asshole has no problem picking up women. And frankly, if you cannot even consider that point, then you really don't want help, but just confirmation of your own views.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:04 AM on September 3


You expect people who don't know any better to suddenly know that they aren't right, that there are ways of finding out why they aren't right and how they can change to be right, how to access that information, which sources of information won't put them off this course correction, and which sources of information are the correct ones (or at least more correct than any other). I think that's madness, to expect someone to do that without a guide.

The original question, as the SSC entry gets to, isn't supposed to be answered. "Life's unfair! Why?!" isn't a constructive thing to engage with but to use that as a reason to just not engage is also bad. Which was one of (or another of?) his points. You can treat men that are sitting on the wrong side of the issue as radioactive but you shouldn't be surprised when they fail to crawl out of the waste pit they're squatting in. And it shouldn't be shocking if a portion of them decide to submerge themselves in it, for lack of better or even known-to-them options.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:25 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Yes, it's shitty, but it is not unfair that the abuser seems to have no problem with women, while guys who appear to be decent struggle to connect. The reason it feels like it's unfair is because people want to - for a number of reasons - believe in the just world fallacy. But that's a fallacy, and a quite dangerous one at that, as the just world fallacy is at the heart of many justifications for actual inequality, such as prosperity theology.
The just world fallacy is the belief that the world really is fair, so any apparent unfairness must actually be deserved. For instance, if someone seems hard-working but poor, they must actually be lazy or on drugs. If someone lost their house in a tsunami, they must not believe in the right god. If someone is nice and considerate but has less skill at relationships than a serial abuser, they must actually be a misogynistic creep.

In fact none of those things are true -- people can be hard-working, nice, cautious, and yet still end up poor or homeless or alone due to factors beyond their control. But it's easier to blame them for their situation than to confront the truth that life isn't fair, and that we have basically no solution to that problem and maybe never will.
posted by Rangi at 9:36 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Carefully parsing the article, here's kind of how it breaks down for me and aligns/doesn't align regarding how I "live" my social justice values in various settings:

In the office, with good friends at their home (think dinner parties, etc), in a structured setting, educational, workgroup, (mefi also!!) or any other kind of space that's intended for self-improvement of some sort, I am very deferential to "the room". I try to remain positive and solutions oriented while keeping my potentially hurt feelings in check. (something that hormone replacement therapy has made much much more possible for me to do!)

At a bar with friends, or in a more casual setting, I tend to more direct and less explanatory with this stuff. Stuff like, "Yeah, I know it's hard to see me as she, we've been friends for ten years, I appreciate you trying, we'll get there" all the way to correcting the bartender/waitstaff/bouncer/cab driver whatever with a direct "I prefer she, thank you".

On the street walking in a part of town that's not too nice to obviously queer/trans people? That's where I put on my glare. Being stared down is frightening as hell and putting out any kind of insecurity in that environment is dangerous. That's where I employ anger and fearsomeness, otherwise I am prey.

On tumblr/twitter/facebook: I am pretty outspokenly bitchy and honest about what pisses me off and frustrates me.

So it's kind of a cascading effect from the "gallant place on high" where the article is written from, all the way down "don't fuck with me", depending on what circumstance I happen to be in.

HTH...
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:41 AM on September 3 [5 favorites]


I'm not sure how we've gotten to 'if you're single and unhappy about it, you deserve to be single and unhappy' being something all good MeFites are supposed to agree on.
posted by nangar at 9:53 AM on September 3 [2 favorites]


You expect people who don't know any better to suddenly know that they aren't right, that there are ways of finding out why they aren't right and how they can change to be right, how to access that information, which sources of information won't put them off this course correction, and which sources of information are the correct ones (or at least more correct than any other). I think that's madness, to expect someone to do that without a guide.

Nobody is expecting them to come to this understanding on their own, which is why it gets pointed out over and over that no matter how nice you are, nobody owes you companionship. The issue is that while you can lead someone to knowledge, you can't make them think - once they have the information, it's on them to act upon it. Again, there are many resources out there that will help people with meeting people and connecting (I personally like the Captain and the Good Doctor on these topics, but YMMV), but they ask that you start from a position that you are not "owed" companionship. If you can't get past that, it's on your head, not anyone else's.

You can treat men that are sitting on the wrong side of the issue as radioactive but you shouldn't be surprised when they fail to crawl out of the waste pit they're squatting in. And it shouldn't be shocking if a portion of them decide to submerge themselves in it, for lack of better or even known-to-them options.

Except that they've been thrown the rope - they just choose not to use it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:13 AM on September 3


I'm not sure how we've gotten to 'if you're single and unhappy about it, you deserve to be single and unhappy' being something all good MeFites are supposed to agree on.

Good thing nobody is saying that, then!

The point is that despite what our culture has taught us, nobody is owed companionship, no matter how nice they are.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:17 AM on September 3


I'm not sure how we've gotten to 'if you're single and unhappy about it, you deserve to be single and unhappy' being something all good MeFites are supposed to agree on.

Good thing nobody is saying that, then!


literally the last line of your comment right above yours implies that:

Except that they've been thrown the rope - they just choose not to use it.
posted by rebent at 10:19 AM on September 3


The point being that if you are single, unhappy, and are unwilling to consider that you are not owed companionship, then there's little that can be done to help you.

I've been in the "single and miserable" column myself. But I didn't think that because I was a nice person, I was entitled to companionship. This in turn let me actually address the bits that were holding me back.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:30 AM on September 3 [3 favorites]


How do we determine who is willing and unwilling? Don't you have to engage with someone first in order to judge that, because it sounds like there are people that wouldn't be engaged when they complain about 'life not being fair' simply because they asked that question. They'd be lumped into the crowd of the unwilling without anyone having tested their attachment to concept.
posted by Slackermagee at 10:56 AM on September 3


I just took a look at those two dating advice sites. Back when I was single, I would have found both of them very unhelpful. Captain Awkward is positive but vague, with advice like "Consume More Art by Women" and "Be Nice to Yourself". A lot of the comments are extremely negative. Dr Nerdlove is worse - the "5 Simple Ways to Jumpstart Your Life" post is essentially a list of 5 things to stop doing with no advice on what to start doing.

I'm a teacher, and I see lots of students who are starting on that road of serious frustration and a desire to blame others for their lack of romantic success. I struggle a bit with useful advice. I don't think the links you are offering give it.
posted by datadawg at 11:05 AM on September 3


Bloody hell. The idea is, 'This guy abuses women. I don't. He gets girlfriends/wives. I don't. That doesn't seem how it should work, and it makes me feel bad about myself because an abuser is apparently more appealing than I am.'

How is that so hard to understand or empathise with? Maybe it's just because I've been in that position to see men I know to do much better in relationships than I have, even though they are known sleazy creepers. It doesn't do wonders to one's self-esteem to hear of people behaving in negative ways you could never fathom doing so, and yet still somehow they find partnerships so much easier to have than you do. It's not about feeling you deserve a partner, just looking at someone who treats others badly and yet still finds love, or at least is loved.

That seems to me an understandable reaction. But no, that gets you lumped in as someone who regards potential partners as undifferentiated objects or a seething, impersonal mass, the Nice Guy who demands attention from people he doesn't regard as human. This is not a false phenomenon, but it's also not applicable in the case of the linked article, which incidentally is one diversionary comment's link that is also not related to the post itself, and so is the absolute essence of a derail.
Still, you offer some people a chance to rail at the soft, deserving target, the Hello M'Lady, and they'll go for it, no matter how ill-fitting the designation. I just wish that it didn't take any guy saying they've been lonely to immediately get them designated a dehumanising arsehole.
posted by gadge emeritus at 11:50 AM on September 3 [8 favorites]


Because, gadge, it's actually a really toxic mindset.

First, there's the "that's not how it should be" bit, which seems straightforward, but is actually packed full of entitlement. When you say that, the unspoken part is that the way it should work is that the virtuous should be attractive and desirable, while the morally unfit should be relegated to the shadows.

That's pretty much the textbook definition of the just-world fallacy.

Second, it frames companionship and intimacy as a competition, which is the best way to sabotage yourself in this regard. Viewing relationships as a sort of scorekeeping is a great way to undermine developing them.

Third, it creates a very broad picture of relationships that ignores the details that are important. There was a good response to the classic "women have it easier dating" comment - anyone can have an easy time dating, if they're willing to have no standards. Do you just want a "warm body", or do you want a good, honest connection with someone who shares your values?

I understand the position perfectly, but I can't empathize with it, because there's a lot of unhealthy bits. As I said earlier, I went through my phase of this sort of thought myself, and what got me out of it was some honest introspection.
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:20 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


It's about coming at this from a position of some privilege, an educator's in this example, and getting apathetic or hostile people to change their minds. In that case, in fact, the exact opposite is necessary.

Agreed. Part of community building and raising the consciousness of a community is about building the sentiment that "we are all in this together." Yes, there is some value to drawing stark lines in terms of "good people do this, bad people do that. I want to know who is on the good side and who isn't." But there is also great value in asking people to do something in the name of making the community better.

In elections, you can afford to alienate others. You only have to win 50% + 1 of the votes of those most motivated to show up. But if you're actually trying to change institutions and culture, you need larger buy-in, and you need to give a reason for people why they should go along with it.
posted by deanc at 12:45 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


The flip side of the "just world fallacy" of "I reflect certain virtues. Why don't I get money/relationships due to these virtues?" is the belief that "this person who has money/companionship is very virtuous/attractive." It is the common belief of the latter that promotes belief in the former.

People who are quick to criticize those who lament their lack of monetary or social success are also quick to accept the social rewards that come with being seen as successful and socially desireable. And they are also quick to criticize those who would play down the value or compromises one must make to acquire those trappings of professional and social success.
posted by deanc at 12:56 PM on September 3


Furthermore, the reason that the whole "these poor men are being attacked for being lonely and lost!" argument rankles me so much is because this is a constantly reoccurring argument. And it's a pretty settled one too - being nice doesn't entitle you to companionship, you have to actively work at building relationships, every woman is an individual - none of this is new. And yet we wind up having to rehash it over and over, as it is somehow gauche to ask that the people coming into the discussion perform the smallest amount of reading.

And then people complain that the people who have had to explain this repeatedly are tired of it and are no longer as patient. As I said earlier, patience has limits.
posted by NoxAeternum at 1:01 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Brief aside: it's "transgender", not "transgendered"; an easy way to remember this is that the -ed implies it's a verb that has happened to the trans person. I'm also pretty sure the other identity descriptors are better used as an adjective and not a noun unless you're in a group, in which case saying something like "the gays" is a joke akin to calling the entire internet "the Google", except with an additional level of outsiders not having the claim to that identity so it's not theirs to joke about.

It's possible that brevity isn't my strong suit. Anyway, carry on.

posted by NoraReed at 1:22 PM on September 3


The delta between a nice guy and an asshole is about the width of a gnat's wing from the perspective I sit at, so "nice guys", stop thinking you're all that because you know that "hitting a woman is bad".

I prefer direct, to the point, out with what they think assholes because I can figure them out quicker, they do lame shit to me and I move on. Nice guys tend have all this passive ambiguity I have to sort through and figure out before I can tell if they will gaslight me or get all sleep rape-y or co-dependent, and by the time I've figured out that "oh fuck, this dude is microagressive and passively manipulating me without knowing it" chances are I'm going to be in love and miserable. It really sucks, but at the end of the day a "nice guy" IMO is just another flavor of "potentially abusive asshole".
posted by Annika Cicada at 1:28 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure how we've gotten to 'if you're single and unhappy about it, you deserve to be single and unhappy' being something all good MeFites are supposed to agree on.

Im still wondering how guys with dating-fail is a social justice issue.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:12 PM on September 3


Anyone has the possibility to become more empathetic, a better listener and communicator. There are times and places where using these techniques isn't the right thing to do, for personal safety or sanity, or even for simple lack of time, but that doesn't mean these reminders are not useful in non-professional life. I'm nowhere near perfect, but I think learning some of these lessons has helped me be a better person, not just better at work.

Yes, but they are not the entire toolkit.

One thing that worries me about lists like these, taken out of context, is that they can further stigmatize marginalized people's anger. And anger is an important force; it's what gives energy and motivation to people to fix things that are unjust. Asking people facing injustice to refrain from it hobbles progress, and it's a demand that's made a lot. Which means that asking marginalized people to be nice, and tuning them out or scolding them when they're not, functions in reality, even if not always in intent, as a way of perpetuating oppression.

People without power have learned over time to be servile, and obsequious, and pleasant. There's a reason many stereotypes of oppressed people include being manipulative or sneaky; we have learned to hide our feelings to avoid being punished for them, to act in secret to avoid being shamed or killed for our actions. We have learned to swallow our justified anger, over and over again, because it's not safe to express it. It is absolutely a valid act of protest against oppression to refuse to keep swallowing that anger, to refuse to be relegated to the servant/maternal role of providing free emotional labor so that other people can avoid discomfort that they themselves have caused or perpetuated. Patience is a lovely virtue, but so is speaking the truth.
posted by jaguar at 2:29 PM on September 3 [7 favorites]


Which means that asking marginalized people to be nice, and tuning them out or scolding them when they're not, functions in reality, even if not always in intent, as a way of perpetuating oppression.

But I saw this list not as "don't be angry" but rather, "don't drag people into jargony internecine bunfights." Anger is useful. Resolving those political group disputes over goals is useful. But those must be in service of goals, not the goal itself. Too often the experience of groups agitating for political change ends up being to make the members of the group feel better about themselves, rather than how best to accomplish change.

Now yes, one can argue that marginalized groups NEED spaces in which they can feel better about themselves. But accomplishing change requires strategic thinking, and organizations dedicated to making change need to focus on that. Now maybe you need an organization and space dedicated to acknowledging you anger and speaking the language of your community. But that's a precursor to making change, not the goal of change itself. I wouldn't even call the original FPP tone policing as much as it is "organizational guide for social justice activists."
posted by deanc at 3:16 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


> Im still wondering how guys with dating-fail is a social justice issue.

I don't think it is. I think it's a derail. I also didn't realize all of NoxAeternum's comments were by the same person.
posted by nangar at 3:37 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


I wouldn't even call the original FPP tone policing as much as it is "organizational guide for social justice activists."

Definitely, and I think it's useful for the context it puts itself in, which is the context of being in the "making change" part of activism.

But consciousness-raising among group members and being validated in one's frustration by group member's (the "feel better" part of activism) is equally important. As is the ability to tell someone who's being an asshole to cut it out. So I don't think the article is at all tone-policing, but I think that applying it too broadly can be. Given that a huge proportion of people responding here seem to be taking it as a "Guide for all activists in all situations," that's what concerns me.
posted by jaguar at 3:52 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Definitely, and I think it's useful for the context it puts itself in, which is the context of being in the "making change" part of activism.

Actually, I want to expand that -- educating potential allies is one aspect of making change, but it's not the only one. Change can absolutely happen when in-group members allow themselves to discard niceties, dig in, and say "We're not going to take this shit anymore, let's fix it." Part of the fixing it may be educating allies, but I fear that that aspect often overshadows the utility of in-group-only organizing and agitating.
posted by jaguar at 3:54 PM on September 3 [3 favorites]


Yeah, the issue sort of pressed buttons for me, most likely because of my own personal issues. And while I don't see it as a social justice issue, the tangent I think illustrates the issues that actually educating people raises, especially when dealing with groups that are inherently opposed to the message. Look at how many times it was argued that these people should be sympathized with, and that asking them for some self-reflection on their viewpoint is so horrible.
posted by NoxAeternum at 3:57 PM on September 3


NoxAeternum, I think you should realize that you're not the only person who's ever engaged in some self-reflection about this.
posted by nangar at 4:12 PM on September 3 [1 favorite]


Part of the fixing it may be educating allies, but I fear that that aspect often overshadows the utility of in-group-only organizing and agitating.

Marginalized Echo chambers in a self-segregated ghetto rarely change the world.

In-group solidarity is great for maintaining a struggle. But if one wishes to progress to the endgame of actually changing the zeitgeist, the majority of the population who are not personally invested in the struggle need to be brought on board.

Otherwise, one is more interested in purity & identity than actual change.

#Oakland
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 5:32 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


PBZM:

RE #Oakland: The arc of the moral universe is long but ultimately bends towards justice, AKA, don't mistake a lost campaign for a lost war.

And to suggest that interest in maintaining in-group solidarity is to be more interested in ideological purity than change? I am confused, because that *is* part of the very process that catalyzes change, but what exactly do you suggest actually changes the zeitgeist? Bringing in the majority of the population? That's never gonna happen through olive branch appeasement and you know it. You need to pull the levers of democracy to pass laws that protect your particular minority group, to do that you need to fight, raise your voice, self-advocate, and organize. That starts with...Marginalized groups self-organizing, identifying. I don't think it's about purity, it's about finding like minds that can bring their voice together into a larger represented voice, enough to have a position of standing before the government. I just...fail to understand why you are critical of the very nascent process required to make "changing the zeitgeist" possible.

I think the structural problem with your comment is that it fails to clearly consider the question "which side validates a particular group's struggle, the group itself or the unconcerned masses?"
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:51 PM on September 3 [2 favorites]


You need to pull the levers of democracy to pass laws that protect your particular minority group, to do that you need to fight, raise your voice, self-advocate, and organize. That starts with...Marginalized groups self-organizing, identifying.

I can't tell you how many times I have run into people who considered the work of organizing voters and engaging in useful campaigning to be "too dirty" to sully themselves with, preferring moral preening, purity-contests, and performance art which built stronger bonds between their peers but didn't make change.

Occupy basically had that built into their mission statement, but there are plenty of other examples, from various anti war groups in the early 00s to PETA, which is effectively a performance art troupe like "Improv Everywhere" but less honest about it, to Adlai Stevensen's presidential campaigns, which were more about how the candidate and his supporters told themselves that they were simply too good and virtuous to win.
posted by deanc at 6:18 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


I am of the opinion that minority interests need to use performance as a way of expressing their position. Grotesque as it may be in a given group, no one has the right to see only beautiful things. The performative aspects of social protest, while not the whole change agent, are still an interesting and fascinating part of the the overall process. For instance, Your comment tries frame occupy as a singular event that failed to enact change, I saw it as a singular campaign in a decades long fight to make change.

I guess I'm saying I think performance is an important part of expressing identity throughout the process of social change and is not something that should outright dismissed as ineffective.
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:21 AM on September 4


RE #Oakland: The arc of the moral universe is long but ultimately bends towards justice, AKA, don't mistake a lost campaign for a lost war.

Don't confuse revolution LARPing & ritual coup-counting against "the pigs" for an actual campaign with a strategy & goals.

You need to pull the levers of democracy to pass laws that protect your particular minority group, to do that you need to fight, raise your voice, self-advocate, and organize. That starts with...Marginalized groups self-organizing, identifying.

Who exactly is going to be pulling those levers of democracy in large enough numbers to make real change happen? The marginalized & few in number? It Starts With the concerned in-group. It's level of success is determined how far outside the in-group it's message takes hold.

The unconcerned middle class not personally invested In the struggle are exactly the ones who are gonna cast those votes. Eventually, they're the ones who have to be brought on board in order for real world change to happen. Because numbers.

I think the structural problem with your comment is that it fails to clearly consider the question "which side validates a particular group's struggle, the group itself or the unconcerned masses?"

Concerns about "validating a particular group's struggle" are why us lefties fail at power in America.

Because while we're making sure every one is feels heard has expressed their personal truth, the Koch brothers and their minions are out there organizing and standing shoulder to shoulder in favor of entrenched power, money, & white supremacy.

Over on our side, the talking-stick has only made it halfway around the circle, and there's a derail over is the coffee free-trade.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:28 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Well, everyday I leave the house I challenge people's notion of what a woman is, I claim identity, express it and organize locally, I attend events that are rowdy, I protest at the state capital and work to build consensus within the small little corner of the world I live. I can tell you from personal experience the only thing that makes anyone care about what I go through is to be unapologetically me. And yes, I do care who gets to validate what I am, because people for far too long have tried to determine what I am and wether or not I get to be me. I am a primary stakeholder in the fight to recognize the validity and lived experience trans women, so while you criticize that process, I'm over here doing it and finding success, so I'm not sure why you think it's a bad thing.
posted by Annika Cicada at 9:00 AM on September 4 [5 favorites]


I think that's a lovely thing.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:52 AM on September 4 [1 favorite]


cool, I hope what I am doing and what I am learning gives others hope that maybe we can actually pull of these big ideas and make the world a better place for everyone...
posted by Annika Cicada at 11:19 AM on September 4 [2 favorites]


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